Irene spares North Carolina sweet potatoes - The Packer

Irene spares North Carolina sweet potatoes

10/12/2011 09:40:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Hurricane Irene hurt some North Carolina crops, but not sweet potatoes, which welcomed the moisture after a dry summer.

By Sept. 23, about one-fourth of the North Carolina sweet potato crop had been dug, with harvest schedules running right on time, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

Dunn, N.C.-based Godwin Produce Co. was about one-third dug by the week of Sept. 26, said David Godwin, the company’s owner.

Godwin Produce expects to begin shipping cured product the first week in November, right on schedule, Godwin said.

With acreage jumping from 56,000 in 2010 to 65,000 in 2011, this year was scheduled to be one of the biggest crops in the state’s history, Johnson-Langdon said.

Hurricane Irene took care of that, however.

“There are some low-lying areas that will not even be dug,” Johnson-Langdon said.

Irene took up to 20% of the 2011 crop out of commission, she said.

Those sweet potatoes that have been dug or will get dug, however, look great, Johnson-Langdon said. And Irene helped fields that had been suffering from drought.

“A significant portion was dry, and they got the water they needed,” she said.

Other North Carolina crops were hit harder by Irene’s high winds than sweet potatoes were, said George Wooten, owner and chief executive officer of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.

“Sweet potatoes are more close to the ground, so wind doesn’t really bother them,” Wooten said.

As for Irene-related rain, Wayne E. Bailey’s fields got about 2 1/2 inches — and more wouldn’t have hurt.

“Some growers got more than we did, and even they didn’t get hurt,” Wooten said. “Irene was more of a benefit than damage.”

Godwin Produce was among the grower-shippers that could have used even more than Irene delivered, Godwin said.

Nevertheless, even though yields will likely be down for Godwin Produce, quality was looking very good in late September.

“We had a very dry year, but what we’ve dug is a lot better than what we were expecting,” Godwin said. “What we have so far looks wonderful.”

Hurricane Irene, devastating elsewhere in the state, was just what the doctor ordered for Godwin Produce, whose fields received up to 2 1/2 inches of rain from the storm.

“We didn’t get hurt by it at all — we needed the rain,” Godwin said.

Rains from Irene helped spuds size up, so much so that size profile should be bigger than last season, said Steven Ceccarelli, owner of Faison, N.C.-based Farm Fresh Produce Inc.

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